Google founder Sergey Brin said he would be "open" to releasing accident reports about crashes involving its robot cars in response to a Consumer Watchdog challenge for transparency about the crashes today.
However, Google executives rejected Consumer Watchdog's call to protect privacy of driverless car users by limiting the use of data gathered by the cars to only operating the vehicles.
Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson, a Google shareholder, raised the questions about the privacy and safety issues involving Google's driverless cars during the question-and-answer portion of Google's annual shareholders' meeting.
Simpson called on Google to release complete details of accidents involving its driverless cars – including all formal accident reports.
"A Google spokesman called the crashes minor and said Google's cars weren't at fault, of course that's what any driver says when they're in an accident, 'oh it's not my fault.' But we have to take your word for it and don't really know what happened because Google hasn't released the actual accident reports," said Simpson.
"Will you release the reports so the public knows what went wrong and will you commit to making all future accident reports public?"
Sergey Brin, who is leading up the autonomous car project, said, "It's basically the summary we've already given you. I suppose we could give more detail, and we're open to that."
He went on to say: "It's a description, you know, we write what happened, it's basically the summary we've already given you."
After the meeting Simpson said, "The accident reports are a starting point and contain details that Google has still refused to make public. We ask Mr. Brin to direct his staff to release those documents today. Then the public can judge whether we need more information to evaluate the safety of driverless cars."
The Internet giant has acknowledged that its robot vehicles have been involved in 11 crashes since the company began testing them on public highways in California, yet has thus far made only generic descriptions of the crashes public.
Simpson also called on Google to protect the privacy of driverless car owners.
"Would you be willing to protect driverless car users' privacy in the future and commit today to using the information gathered by driverless cars only for operating the vehicles and not for other purposes such as marketing?"
"I think we took the position it's a little early to be drawing all those kinds of conclusions," answered David Drummond, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer. He went on to state that any restrictions, "Would in a lot of ways would reduce innovation and our ability to deliver a great consumer product."
As the Legislature passed the California law authorizing driverless cars on the state's public roads Google rebuffed an amendment that would have protected privacy by requiring that data gathered by a robot car could be used only for operating the vehicle and not for such things as marketing.
Google's acknowledgement of crashes involving its robot cars came after Consumer Watchdog learned of accidents involving driverless cars after the group filed a Public Records Act request to the California Department of Motor Vehicles in March. The DMV treats the accident reports confidentially. The public interest group is advocating that the DMV require that human drivers have the ability to take over control of the robot cars if necessary. Google wants a car with no steering wheel, brake pedal, or accelerator.
"Google wants to eliminate the most basic safeguard, a licensed driver able to take control, in its proposed driverless vehicles. This aim makes it even more important for the public to understand any accidents that occur involving Google vehicles during the testing phase," said Simpson.
DMV rules also require companies testing driverless cars to report the details of all incidents when the robot technology was disengaged and the test driver had to assume control. Consumer Watchdog has called on Google to make the disengagement reports public as well.
"Driverless car technology is evolving and there are many situations Google's robot cars cannot deal with. People need to know that," said Simpson.